When the NHL's free agency period opened on Sunday, veteran defenseman Jack Johnson switched Metropolitan Division squads, going from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The move has seemed to anger plenty of people, and on both sides, but maybe none have come away more fiercely irked than Johnson's former coach in John Tortorella.
The Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford have faced blowback from the Pittsburgh faithful as a result of the signing. Many Penguins fans aren't thrilled with the commitment (five years and $16.25 million) to the 31-year-old Johnson who has had his fair share of struggles on the blue line over the years. Johnson spent seven years in Columbus and his tenure didn't exactly end gloriously; he was a healthy scratch during the Blue Jackets' first-round playoff series loss to the Capitals.
Comments made by Rutherford and Johnson in an introductory press conference Sunday downplayed Johnson's struggles in Columbus and hinted at a toxic culture within the Blue Jackets organization. Rutherford said Johnson was scratched for reasons outside of performance, and Johnson said one reason he chose Pittsburgh is because he's "looking to be in a winning culture."
Those comments infuriated Tortorella, who has been behind the Columbus bench since 2015. Tortorella has a well-earned reputation for being loud and outspoken, and he didn't hold back when it came to responding to the claims from Johnson and Rutherford on Sunday.
"All I know is, this organization, from the lawyers, the front office, J.D. (John Davidson), the managers, the coaches, players … has done nothing but try to help Jack," Tortorella told The Athletic. "And for him to backhand slap us like this is utter bulls--t, and he should know better.
"No one wishes anything bad to happen to him and his family. We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is bulls--t. And to have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a f-----g magician."
Tortorella made a point to reference the issues that Johnson has dealt with off the ice over the course of his career, and how the Blue Jackets have tried to help him through them.
The defenseman, who was selected with the third overall pick in 2005, filed for bankruptcy in 2014 as a result of his parents' reckless spending. After signing his first major pro contract -- a seven-year, $30.5 million deal with the L.A. Kings -- Johnson gave his parents control of his finances, and they racked up massive amounts of debt that eventually resulted in Johnson being forced to liquidate a number of assets, including two homes.
Despite his lucrative salary, Johnson was forced to surrender most of his earnings over the past few seasons in order to pay back the debt.
Tortorella seemed especially bothered by Johnson's ungrateful attitude towards the support that the Blue Jackets showed him during that time.
"That's what pisses me off," he said. "He doesn't have enough balls to call me back, because I've tried to get in touch with him. You don't s--t on an organization that's done nothing but try to help you. We all know Jack has had some problems along the way here; it's very well-chronicled. All we've done is try to f-----g help him.
"I love the f-----g guy (Johnson). I've had him on the Olympic team. I get him on the World Cup team. I love the guy. But for him to do this is ridiculous. He has got to start pointing the finger at himself, not other people.
After Tortorella's rant, Johnson, who served as an alternate captain during his tenure in Columbus, walked back on his comments, saying he didn't intend for them to be interpreted as an insult towards the Blue Jackets' organization. He attempted to clear things up in a response to The Athletic.
"I didn't mean it in any way, shape or form as a backhand towards Columbus," Johnson told The Athletic. "It's just … Pittsburgh's won two (Stanley) Cups in the last three years, and there's a winning culture there. I didn't mean it in any way to insult the Blue Jackets at all."
"When I first came to Columbus (2012), I was looking forward to helping create a winning culture, help build it," he said. "I've had a wonderful time in Columbus. I met my wife there, started a family there, nothing but great friends and relationships there. I believe they have a winning culture there. All I meant was, I'm excited to be part of Pittsburgh's winning culture."
He may have to make an effort to explain himself again once the steam stops pouring out of Tortorella's ears.